We used to do VO2 Max tests quite often. Twice a year, in fact, at the US Ski Team’s headquarters in Park City, Utah. Then the specialized roller ski treadmill belt broke, and, well…you can still do the test on the new treadmill…BUT. The resistance is very different, so you no longer have consistency in the variable of how long you can remain skiing until exhaustion. And for me, that was the only one that mattered. It mattered because it tested my mind, not just physiological markers that might perhaps indicate success in sport. To my way of thinking, how resilient your brain is is the most important marker of success in sport. You could be ridiculously gifted, but that doesn’t really matter if you quit.
For those of you reading and thinking “I’m not into science-y test stuff”, hang with me! It’s pretty straightforward. While breathing into a tube that measured the gases you breathe in and out, you’d roller ski on a treadmill that stayed at a fixed speed (pretty easy when it was flat), and every minute the incline would go up one percent. Obviously, I’m sure there’s a very long and very complicated scientific procedure and explanation for this test, but just go with me here, I’m not that far off.
The objective was to ski until exhaustion – until you couldn’t keep going. At some point, your body would reach it’s VO2 max, which is the maximum amount of oxygen your heart, lungs and muscles can process and use while exercising. Otherwise known as your personal measure of aerobic capacity. Otherwise known as The Test to determine if you will Win and Be Grand In Your Sport! Just kidding, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. But it can still be a fun number to find out.
With the treadmill ratcheting upwards every minute, your outlook on life in general got worse and worse the longer you stayed on. Things went from “wow, this is SO easy. I’m amazing.” to “WHY am I even doing this, again? Why does it matter?” and finally to “I’m quitting this sport…as soon as I finish this test”. Funnily enough, the test was only about 11-12 minutes. You sure can pack a lot of agony and self-doubt into a short amount of time.
We were hooked up to a sort of climbing harness that would catch us when we fell off the back of the treadmill. And it was a point of pride to fall off the back. If you grabbed the bars at the top of the treadmill, you were SUCH a weenie, because you clearly could have kept battling it out until you slowly got pulled to the back of the huge treadmill.
The test was hard. It was SO hard. And the annoying thing is that you could quit whenever you wanted to. I mean, you were supposed to be tired, but even the worst actor among us could feign a collapse and fall off the back of the treadmill whenever you decided that enough was enough, you were DONE being a lab rat. But this is where our sport gets almost comical in the amount of pain we put ourselves through. Even though you could fake it and fall off or pretend to be 100% exhausted, you’d see people really truly run themselves into the ground way past the point where the VO2 max data had been collected.
I would refer to the VO2 max test as “the stubbornness test” for exactly this reason. The treadmill was going to win. It always wins. But you got to decide how long you wanted to hang on, even knowing the definitive outcome. That’s sort of messed up, you know? Messed up, or stupid, or brave, or sort of romantically poetic. However you want to look at it.
So why am I waxing nostalgic about the test that would haunt my nightmares? Because ever since the Olympics, I feel like my life is on the VO2 max treadmill (except not painful). It’s going by so quickly! I mean, this summer has absolutely flown by. It’s increasingly important as I desperately try to be a “real adult” to figure out that balance of ski training, life, and rest so that I can hang onto the treadmill of life as long as possible. And just like that darn treadmill test, when things feel stressful, I need to remember that it doesn’t last forever! 12 minutes on the treadmill can feel like eternity, and so can a hard or uncertain week in life, but that doesn’t mean I need to doubt myself. When I was younger I used to think “no way do the best skiers in the world ever have doubts or tough times! They probably have it all figured out!” NOPE. Everyone has moments where they’re still not sure they’re doing the right training, or balancing life quite as well as they’d like to. But the thing is, we’re all learning and growing day by day, getting better one step at a time.
One fun little detail that added a hurdle feature onto my treadmill happened last January, a month before the Games. My condo where I live in Stratton got flooded when a pipe burst in the floor above mine, so for about 3 days it “rained’ inside my place. Yikes! It had to get town down to the concrete slab and restored, and the ensuing battle with insurance to actually be paid the full amount has been an absolute nightmare…that is still ongoing. I had no idea how much stress that I could experience from this, but as it turns out, being an adult is straight up ridiculous. I eventually had to just laugh at myself. The good news is that I got to move into my place a few weeks ago, and Forbes Construction (based out of South Londonderry) did an absolutely amazing job! I love the new place, and while moving is exhausting both mentally and physically, I’m on the happy side of moving now.
So what did I learn from all this? As much as I’ve love to believe that I’m SuperWoman and I can handle anything, adding in the little “extras” that life throws at you (like moving) can mean that I have to find another way to restore the balance of training super hard and resting enough. It’s important to account for the little stressors that I can’t control, and focus on the things that I CAN control. So this summer has been testing my creativity and commitment to keeping that balance, which is a very good thing for me in the long run! And the treadmill of life is always going to be moving, so it’s important to relax and enjoy the ride!
And now I’m in New Zealand for a 3 week training camp, and although I’m here to ski my face off, it feels like a dream vacation! I’m ready for more “camp life”; the simple rhythm when we all train long hours twice a day, eat a ton of great food in between, and sleep as much as possible. I love getting to hang out with my teammates and I love the easygoing atmosphere of the Snow Farm. I love the countryside and mountains. I love the people. Good Lord, I’m ready to permanently move to New Zealand! I just love everything about that Country. I’ll be sure to take lots of photos so that my next blog will convince you, too, that you should be moving to NZ on the next available flight.